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Advice for High-Risk Times in Student’s Life

The more parents know about collegiate alcohol problems, the more likely collaboration between the university and parents can help prevent alcohol problems.

Is there such a thing as drinking without problems? Low-risk drinking is:

  • Thinking about whether you will drink, what you will drink before the party, not consuming mindlessly
  • Being 21 years old or older
  • Eating a meal before or during drinking
  • Abstaining when recovering from an illness and is also the best for the individual that is on any medication
  • Drinking one drink per hour; maximum 3 for women and 4 for men for the entire evening
  • Always knowing what you are drinking: never accepting an open container or leaving a drink unattended and then drinking it
  • Alternating alcohol-free (caffeine-free too) drinks throughout the evening; water is the best option
  • Knowing how you will get home safely before going out

High-risk drinking is:

  • Drinking to get drunk
  • Driving after drinking or riding with someone under the influence
  • Drinking too much or too fast on an empty stomach
  • Drinking Games
  • Chugging
  • Doing shots
  • Using a funnel, hose, or punch bowl
  • Going to parties where people drink too much
  • Not knowing what is in your glass or leaving it unattended
  • Mixing alcohol with any medications, over the counter or prescription
  • Mixing alcohol with illegal drugs
  • Mixing alcohol with energy drinks
  • Pre-partying or pre-gaming
  • Drinking while sleep deprived
  • Drinking as an excuse for sexual activities
  • Drinking with a genetic predisposition to alcoholism, drug addiction, depression, eating disorders, etc.

Some High Risk Times during the Academic Year:

  • The first six weeks of school (major pressure to socialize and get caught up with friends in addition to low academic demands)
  • Homecoming
  • Right before, during, or immediately after mid-terms as a means of stress management
  • After handing in a major paper or project (very high risk if the student had stayed all night before, working on the paper/project; sleep deprivation can intensify the impairment)
  • During fraternity rush/recruitment
  • Bid Day or Night
  • Semi-formals and Formals
  • Major sporting events
  • Winter Break
  • Spring Break
  • Mardi Gras
  • Birthdays (especially 21st)
  • Break up of relationships
  • Right after finals
  • Graduation

Let your young adults know that they are facing a time of potential high-risk drinking.  Clarify your expectations of their behavior.  Explore their plans to stay safe.

Facing an Alcohol-Related Crisis – Getting Assistance

Adapted from: “What Parents Need to Know About College Drinking” by National Institutes of Health

  • Be aware of the signs of possible alcohol abuse by your student (e.g. lower grades, never available or reluctant to talk with you, unwilling to talk about activities with friends, trouble with campus authorities, serious mood changes)
  • If you believe your student is having a problem with alcohol, do not blame them but find appropriate treatment.
  • Call and/or visit the campus counseling center and ask to speak with the substance abuse therapist.
  • Indicate to the Dean of Students, either in person or by email, your interest in the welfare of your student and that you want to be actively involved in his or her recovery despite the geographic separation.
  • Pay your student an unexpected visit. Ask to meet their friends. Attend Family Weekend and other campus events open to parents.
  • Continue to stay actively involved in the life of your student. Even though they may be away at college, they continue to be an extension of your family and its values/principles.

Facing a Relapse

If your student has gone through treatment and relapses, do not consider this a failure. Many individuals struggling with alcoholism and addiction relapse. The most important concern is for the individual to get into a recovery/sobriety plan.  This may include a treatment center either in-patient or out-patient care along with entering a 12 step/other program as soon as possible.

Vanderbilt has a recovery support program to support and assist recovering students. We also have Recovery Housing for the first time on Vanderbilt’s campus for individuals with a minimum of six month of sobriety.  You or your young adult may contact the Center for Student Wellbeing at ( for more information.

  • Call the Center for Student Wellbeing  to communicate your concern and willingness to be involved with getting your student immediate help.
  • Talk with the substance abuse therapist in Psychological and Counseling Center. You can share any information about your student, but please realize that if your student is in therapy, the therapist can not release information without a release form signed by your student (this is a federal and state law that protects confidentiality of therapy, especially substance abuse therapy.) A therapist can listen and is appreciative of any new information that might help the client/student.
  • Explore the options at this time with your young adult and their therapist. Once a plan is developed, write up a contract for all to sign so that everything is crystal clear on what is expected and what would be the consequences if the student does not return to therapy/does not comply with therapy/continues drinking or drug using/etc.
  • Find a support program for yourself or a therapist that specilizing in substance abuse concerns, who can guide and support you through this challenging time.